Return to the 'city of tears' 20 years on as Mirror man recalls being at centre of 9/11

By Andy Lines

The world will pause for silence today as the victims of 9/11 are remembered 20 years on.

Here at Ground Zero, President Biden will pay his respects surrounded by extraordinary security amid fears of an anniversary attack.

The event will start at 8.46am US Eastern time (1.46pm GMT), the precise moment the first plane hit the World Trade Center.

He will join bereaved relatives to listen to the names of all the victims being solemnly read out. Five will have the surname Brennan.

When I hear those names it will bring me straight back to a memorial service held shortly after 9/11.

What are your memories of 9/11? Join the discussion in the comment section

An office worker is caked in dust after the collapse of one of the World Trade Center Towers (AFP/Getty Images)
Mike Kehoe on our cover (Daily Mirror)

I used a shared taxi service and a well-spoken elderly lady sat beside me. “I lost my son,” she said softly.

“I’m coping not too badly but it has been very difficult for my daughter in law.” Minutes later I got out. I shook her hand and asked her name.

“Mrs Brennan,” she replied.

I went online to find her details to send her a condolences message.

It was only then I discovered FIVE men named Brennan had died. That fact seemed to sum up the enormity of what happened that day.

On the night of 9/11 I wrote in my diary “DAY THE WORLD CHANGED”.

On the morning of the 12th, I remember walking down 8th Avenue towards what was soon to be known all around the world as Ground Zero.

I waded through mounds of ash. There was complete silence.

On the streets were thousands of pieces of paper. I saw a boarding pass, a flight itinerary, a child’s shoe.

As I got off the train at Grand Central Station, I watched two complete strangers approach each other.

They shook hands and wished each other “good luck”.

Lone figure views flag among the wreckage (AFP/Getty Images)

The main feature spread the day after the attack was headlined: “My New York has died. Big Apple will never recover.”

Of course New York didn’t die and it did recover. But it changed forever.

Luckily, amid the devastation, there were some happy stories as well.

Finding hero fireman Mike Kehoe alive in his fire station at 6am on Friday was a sliver of positive news.

Everyone believed he must have died after his photo on our front page showed him bravely climbing the stairs in the doomed North Tower.

But when I entered his station to ask, I was told: “No Mike made it, he’s asleep upstairs.” A colleague went to wake him.

The rain in Manhattan that morning was non-stop and torrential. After our interview, his colleagues insisted on giving me and photographer Charlie Varley a lift in their fire engine, diverting to our hotel on their way back to Ground Zero.

They were heading back to join the search but already knew there was no chance of finding more survivors.

The streets were virtually deserted but I remember one elderly man, drenched but applauding the emergency vehicle as it drove past.

In our own home town there was tragedy everywhere. Dozens died.

Our neighbour’s car was left in the local train station car park for three months, his wife praying that he may have somehow survived being in the North Tower.

His body was never found. The dad of one of our daughter’s best friends walked 28 miles home after escaping from the South Tower.

Traumatised, covered head to foot in dust, he didn’t even call. At first the mobile network was down so he decided to just keep walking. He just put his key in the front door 12 hours later to the relief and shock of his wife.

But their marriage couldn’t cope with the trauma and they later divorced.

Another friend, who commuted to midtown Manhattan, watched several people jump to their deaths to
avoid the flames. She was three months’ pregnant and so traumatised she briefly considered a termination as she didn’t want to bring a child “into such an evil world”.

Ash covers a survivor (AFP/Getty Images)

Our next-door neighbour stood in his back garden waving his fist and screamed as US fighter jets roared overhead to protect New York airspace. “Who would do this to America? Go and kill the enemy,” he roared. His son joined the army because of the attacks.

This all happened in one street, in one small suburb, of one New York commuter town.

Earlier that morning I’d dropped our daughters at school, along with my wife, who was organising a book fair. By lunch they were the very last pupils still there. Every other child had been taken home.

Many had dads who worked in the towers. For many weeks a pall of smoke sat above Lower Manhattan as the fires smouldered.

The Daily Mirror’s editor at the time, Piers Morgan, flew over in November.

We boarded a helicopter and flew down the Hudson River towards Ground Zero, where pale grey smoke still spiralled into the sky. Even then it was impossible to comprehend the enormity of what had happened.

There were 67 Brits who died in the attacks – the second highest number of any nation after the US. In the week after, Tony Blair visited for a memorial service and met some of the relatives.

And there will be a small service today at the Queen Elizabeth II September 11th Garden in the Financial District of Lower Manhattan.

It commemorates all the Commonwealth victims of the atrocity.

Yesterday at Ground Zero I met Sean Egan, 25, whose Irish-American dad Martin, 36, a captain in the New York Fire Department, was killed.

He won’t be here today – his family always spends the day out of the city, celebrating Martin’s life.

Sean, who helps out with museum tours at Ground Zero, said: “I came down to pay my respects.” He added: “Losing my dad was the most difficult thing I’ve ever gone through.”

Mike Megna’s horrifying pic of ruins in Ground Zero (Mike Megna)

'I snapped this vision of hell'

- EXCLUSIVE by Andy Lines

Most of these extraordinary pictures have never been seen before – right inside Ground Zero in the days after the attacks.

They were taken by a police officer on a disposable camera in the days before phone cameras became widespread.

They show the sheer enormity of the disaster from a personal viewpoint.

Officer Mike Megna told today about his battle against kidney disease following 9/11.

Mike Megna is a former police officer who now has a rare kidney disorder and is on dialysis (DAILY MIRROR-TRINITY MIRROR GROUP-REACH PLC-)

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Now he has found the photos he took at the time. Mike, 49, said: “I realised I was recording history.

“Even now when I look at them I can’t quite believe what I see.

“The huge amount of paper and ash everywhere.

“When President Bush arrived we weren’t given much notice and then suddenly he was there.”

'Moment to reflect on fall out'

- Voice of the Mirror

Twenty years ago today al-Qaeda struck at the heart of the world’s superpower by turning three passenger planes into weapons of terror.

The attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon cost the lives of 2,977.

As we have reported this week, the psychological and physical scars from this terrible event are still being borne by the survivors to this day. Today will be a moment of mourning in America and across the world. While the United States was the target, the victims came from more than 90 countries and included 67 British citizens.

Today will also be a moment to reflect on the 20 years of foreign policy failures that were forged in the rubble of the World Trade Centre.

The War on Terror launched by George W Bush and eagerly supported by Tony Blair resulted in the invasion of Afghanistan and the Iraq War.

The cost of these interventions was the lives of hundreds of American and British troops as well as tens of thousands of innocent civilians.

Among the hideous by-products of America’s determination to defeat the enemy at any cost was the use of rendition and the alleged torture of detainees at Guantanamo Bay.

The United States began the war wanting to be the world’s policeman and assert Western values, but ended it with the reputation of a rogue cop.

Two decades of conflict culminated in the humiliating and chaotic withdrawal from Kabul this month. The Taliban are once again in control of Afghanistan. Iraq continues to live under the shadow of instability.

The flames of Islamist militancy continue to burn across the globe.

As we remember the victims of 9/11 today we should pause to consider whether the past 20 years have been in vain.


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